Be careful little ears how you hear
Today’s passage finishes with a warning: “Take care, then, how you hear.”
The parable of the sower shows us a lot of bad ways of hearing the word of God. And one good way. I used to read this with a ‘what happens, happens’ angle, thinking that we couldn’t do anything about the way we received the word, it was all based on circumstances beyond our control. Which was very silly, we clearly have a responsibility to make sure we receive the word well! In verse 15 Jesus tells us what good hearing looks like: “they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”
Hearing the word: Today I heard that there had been a terrorist threat in Norfolk and it was all over the news (we couldn’t find any evidence of this!); I heard colleagues singing ‘Go tell it on the mountain’ and other songs that reminded them of school assemblies; I heard my son saying ‘muwk, muwk, muwk’ (milk); I heard too many ‘Steps’ songs played; I heard that they are changing the toilets at work to be more inclusive of transgender people; I heard an invitation to dinner. Not much of this was God’s word. We hear all the time from the people around us and the media we access. But how much time do we spend hearing God’s word? We may have heard God’s word already but if we want to keep hearing it, for it to keep being the overriding influence in our lives, we need to override all the other noise by making time to hear His word, which can be both through the Bible and through his Holy Spirit speaking to us.
Holding it fast in an honest and good heart: I speak from experience when I say that receiving God’s word when you are already in an attitude of selfishness, anger and cynicism doesn’t produce good hearing! When I come to hear from God but have these things going on in my heart I don’t value the word. When we really value and treasure something, that is when we hold it fast and don’t let it go – we make it a part of us, we want to be connected with it. So we need to be checking our attitude and working on the state of our heart, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit who can bring about real change here. And it’s beautifully cyclical of course – the more we are able to receive the word well, to value it and hold fast to it, the more it will transform our hearts and minds.
Bearing fruit with patience: Seeds are not much fun unless they bear fruit! I’m no farmer but I know that if seeds weren’t going to produce crops you wouldn’t bother planting them. God wants his word in us to look like something, to produce something good. This is emphasised in verses 16-18, where the conclusion is reminiscent of the parable of the 10 minas in chapter 19, or the parable of the talents in Matt 25. God expects fruit, which means when we hear God’s word we will do something about it, it will change our lives – what we do, how we respond to people, what we produce in life. If we are holding His word fast in an honest and good heart, this will happen naturally. And we are told to do it with patience. Sometimes I think I am too patient with myself! I’m too satisfied with too little transformation and too little fruit and too little sharing and spreading of the light of God’s word. But when we are allowing it to transform us and shape us and cause us to act out God’s will in the world, we can team with patience: trusting in God’s timing and in his supernatural working through us even when we don’t always see instant results. Like a growing seed.